Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium angustifolium)
Bursting with nutrients and flavour, the tasty dark purple to light blue fruit of blueberries are rich in anti-oxidants and have a superfood reputation. If you have a free-draining, acidic soil then they are easy to grow in the ground – otherwise grow them in containers.
How to grow blueberries
Blueberries prefer an open, sunny, sheltered position – although they will take a little light shade.
They must be grown in an acidic soil that is well drained, but moisture-retentive. If your soil isn’t acidic, don’t despair as they grow and crop perfectly well when grown in pots filled with a lime-free or ericaceous compost.
Blueberries make very attractive patio plants, with their white bell-shaped flowers in spring and attractive autumn foliage, so you don’t need to hide them away.
When planting in the ground, even if your soil is acidic, plant with composted bark, leafmould or ericaceous compost. Don’t use manure or mushroom compost as they are too alkaline. Use the same materials for mulching after planting.
Even though some blueberry varieties are self-pollinating, it is best to grow at least 2 or even 3 different varieties to ensure cross-pollination and a good crop. Different varieties crop at different times, so growing at least one from each of the cropping groups will give you fruit over a very long period.
|Cropping time||Good varieties|
|Early cropping||Duke (tall), Spartan (tall), Patriot (tall), Earliblue (tall)|
|Mid cropping||Ivanhoe (tall), Bluejay (tall), Northcountry (compact)|
|Late cropping||Bluecrop (compact), Coville (self pollinating), Bluegold (compact), Chandler (tall)|
Blueberries are available as container-grown plants, which you can plant at any time of the year, although autumn is best.
Dig a hole 60x60cm (2x2ft) and 30cm (1ft) deep. Add a layer of organic matter into the base of the hole and dig in. Place the roots of the blueberry in the planting hole at the same depth as it was originally growing, so that the old soil mark is at soil level.
Now mix in more soil improver to the soil and fill in the planting hole. Add a general granular plant food, or an ericaceous plant food, and water in well. Finally, add a 5cm (2in) deep mulch around the root area. Patio pots should be at least 20-25 litres in size.
When watering in, preferably use collected rainwater. If you have to use tap water, and it is alkaline (referred to as ‘hard’, which causes your kettle to fur up), you can neutralise the alkalinity by sprinkling sulphur chips over the soil or compost. Do this twice a year – in spring and autumn.
How to care for blueberries
Feed plants each spring with an ericaceous plant food – either a once-a-year continuous release plant food applied in March, or feed regularly with a liquid plant food.
Plants will need watering in the summer to produce a good crop, especially when the fruit is developing. Wherever possible, use collected rainwater and keep the soil or compost evenly moist.
Pruning and training
The main annual pruning should be carried out in winter when plants are dormant. Just cut back 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 of the oldest branches to stimulate fresh young fruiting growth. Cut them back to sideshoots of young wood. In summer pinch the tops out of strong young shoots to encourage more sideshoots.
When your plant only bears fruit at the top of each branch, it’s time to cut back old woody stems, so that new growth will rejuvenate them.
Pick fully ripened blueberries in stages. Most plants will ripen from mid-summer to early autumn when the fruit will turn completely blue and carry a soft white bloom. Pick every week and store in the fridge until you have enough for a meal. If you have more than you can eat, blueberries freeze well.
Mature plants will produce 2-4kg (4.5-9lb) of fruit each year.
|Foliage season(s)||Spring, Summer, Autumn|
|Sunlight||Partial shade, Full sun|
|Soil type||Clay, Loamy, Sandy|
|Soil pH||Acid loving/ericaceous|
|Soil moisture||Moist but well-drained|
|Ultimate height||Up to 1.8m (6ft)|
|Ultimate spread||Up to 1.5m (5ft)|
|Time to ultimate height||5-7 years|